Cattle Council held a producers forum in Launceston this week that that was made up of a series of speakers from MLA and Cattle council telling producers what a great job they are doing on producers behalf. The majority of producers I saw or spoke to could not see any evidence of a job well done.
I found it fascinating to hear some of the questions that showed many producers had a very good and in-depth knowledge of the beef industry that was more rounded than those from MLA or Cattle Council.
One producer asked why New Zealand and US had a free-trade agreement with Korea. Cattle Council went on to talk about how incompetent the former labour government had been and all the reasons why they let producers down.
My information suggests otherwise that the multinational processors suggested industry should hold out for a better deal as agreement was not quite as good as the US had managed to get. Upon pushing for a better deal the Koreans simply walked away and we have not managed to get them back to the table, nothing to do with Government, but all to do with those that are meant to be looking after our industry.
Much discussion was had on the proposed restructure of Cattle Council, to most there it all sounded absolutely fantastic if you didn’t understand fully what was happening. The fact is under the proposal if 200 producers sign up and pays their $110 to join Cattle Council then so-called independents could put up the board making it a fully democratic board; One independent from the north and one from the south.
The problem starts when independents put up for the board and an State Farming Organisations (SFO) puts one of their own for election then an independent would have little or no chance of getting onto the board. (State farming members will have nearly all the members).
The structure of the proposed board is Northern Territory, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, and two independents getting one vote. Queensland delegate will have six votes and New South Wales will have 4 votes, leaving New South Wales and Queensland having a combined vote of 10, whilst the other states along with independents could only muster 7 votes.
Cattle Council are very keen to point out that cattle Council is a national body and as such does not report to SFO’s. The question needs to be asked why two states would effectively control the whole cattle Council, and indeed the whole of Australia’s cattle industry.
As a Tasmanian I was very interested to see if TFGA failed to pay the subscription what would be the result. The answer is that Tasmania would have a representative and independents may be invited to stand. If TFGA then supports an independent then that person would be assured of cornering the vote seeing the TFGA will have nearly all the votes.
If this is the case why should a state pay a subscription?
One of the most interesting things was a question of why can’t we be like the AWI who can actually identify anybody that pays a transaction levy. The answer was that this would be cost prohibitive to identify all producers paying a transaction levy. Upon enquiry from different people who collect information on grains and meat levies the cost certainly would not be cheap, however it may be much cheaper than the expensive road-show that we see cattle Council and MLA putting on around Australia. We may even get some value.
When one is talking about the $56 million farmers contribute to MLA one would think that this sort of cost would not be prohibitive and all producers could be given the number of transactions and votes prior to any AGM which would result in accountability and transparency. (Something that is lacking in the current structure) To actually achieve this, we need to be able to identify all levy-paying cattle producers.
As it stands now, nobody knows who pays what in levies and it would seem that some people in the industry would like it that way. When people send their voting slips back to the MLA there is no way of checking what people have written on their transactions. (This is an honesty system) that suffers from frequent abuse.
If we can actually identify producers then we could have a referendum whereas all producers could actually vote for what sort of structure that producers deem desirable. People being elected to cattle Council could be held accountable by producers who pay their levies.
If we adopted this sort of system, the producers may get benefit from a new producer organisation which is in contrast to what we have now, rather than the multi-national processors and supermarket duopoly getting the benefits of producer’s levies.
In the meantime fiddling around the edges will be expensive and do nothing for producers or for the industry at large; the time for change is now.